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Roma Among Host of Teams Chasing N’Zonzi, but Should They?

The 29-year-old defensive midfielder is suddenly a hot item on the transfer market, with Roma, Arsenal and Barcelona after his services.

Denmark v France: Group C - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

If Serie A were the NBA, then Juventus would most certainly be the Golden State Warriors; a team with a record of historic success (though some of the Warriors success happened in Philadelphia) that fell on hard times for a bit only to rise to prominence in the 2010s and thoroughly dominate their respective leagues. And much like NBA, every other team in the league has to respond to that dominance in kind: are you going to confront that challenge head on, or will you bide your time, waiting for their influence to subside?

In this reality, every move a club makes is a signal of intent: are you the Houston Rockets, who sign specific players to attack the Warriors in specific ways, or are you the Phoenix Suns, who are slowly stockpiling talent waiting for their moment in the sun (no pun intended)?

There are merits to each approach, after all the Rockets game within one game of dethroning the Warriors, while the Suns boast some of the most intriguing young talent in the game and figure to be one of several teams in the mix once the Warriors dynasty fades.

What you don’t want to be is the team in between—the Spurs, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Pacers, etc.—the ones who remain competitive enough to make the playoffs but are in no way title threats. And due to the structure of the league, by making the playoffs, these teams are deprived of those oh so precious lottery picks, and are thus stuck in a sort of semi-competitive purgatory.

While the spread of wealth in Serie A is far more restricted than the NBA, for the past seven seasons there have been two distinct classes in the league: Juventus and everybody else. Thanks to their blend of built and bought, the Old Lady has kept everyone at bay for pretty much the entire decade, a trend that shows no signs of abating now that they’ve landed Cristiano Ronaldo.

So in that light, all remaining Serie A teams must ask themselves how a prospective signing will help them: is Player X one that can directly help me beat Juventus now, or are they someone we can cultivate to seize the moment when Juve inevitably slips up (they can’t win forever, I don’t think).

This NBA-Serie A analogy can only carry us so far simply because individual players have a far more dramatic impact on wins and losses in basketball than they do football—it’s just the nature of the sport—but Steven N’Zonzi will neither a) help Roma beat Juventus this season, nor b) help Roma take over the league once Juve’s reign ends.

N’Zonzi is a fine player and would make Roma better and deeper, but he is not a difference maker. Roma are in no position to invest at least €30 million in 29-year-old defensive midfielder. N’Zonzi is not a check on Juve’s signing of Ronaldo; he’s an anchor that would ensure Roma remains in competitive purgatory.

We need to face reality: as currently constructed, Roma are, at best, a third place team, and adding aging veterans like N’Zonzi or even Javier Pastore does nothing to change that. However, if by some twist of fate they are able to hang onto their core through the better part of the next decade, then a team that rests on the shoulders of Justin Kluivert, Ante Coric, Patrik Schick, the Pellegrinis, Bryan Cristante, Cengiz Ünder and potentially players like Nicolo Barella or even Matthijs de Ligt is one that can compete for cups and titles year after year.

Roma’s Alisson windfall needs to be allocated in that light: that injection of cash doesn’t come along frequently, so blowing it on players who do nothing to significantly advance your present or boost your future is a tremendous waste of resources.

So this is one instance in which I would be happy to be thwarted by Barcelona again. Go ahead, Barca, you can have N’Zonzi. We won’t stop you.